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Our History

The mission of ThinkFirst is to prevent brain, spinal cord and other traumatic injuries through education, research and advocacy.

The ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation was first implemented nationally in 1986 as the National Head and Spinal Cord Injury Prevention Program. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) directed two neurosurgeons, E. 

Eyster and Clark with US Surgeon General 1986
Dr. Eyster and Dr. Watts with US Surgeon General (1986)

Fletcher Eyster, MD, of Pensacola, Florida and Clark Watts, MD, JD, of Columbia, Missouri to develop a national injury prevention program based on their previous prevention efforts in their respective communities. The program was soon named the Think First National Injury Prevention Foundation and later changed ThinkFirst to one word.

ThinkFirst For Teens was developed for assembly or classroom presentation for high school and middle school students. The fast-passed presentation incorporated three components 1) "Harm's Way," the first of several award winning videos produced to kick off the presentation 2) the health educator presentation, using models of the brain, skull and spinal column to explain how injuries occur, why injuring the brain or spinal cord lead to permanent disabilities and how to avoid injury, and  3) testimony from a VIP speaker, Voices for Injury Prevention, sharing their personal story as to how they acquired a brain or spinal cord injury and how it affected their life. Optional components, such as utilizing paramedics to demonstrate prevention of further injury when treating someone with a suspected spinal cord injury, as well as an obstacle course that gave students an opportunity to experience use of a wheelchair were used in early years.

Within two years 115 chapters were trained. Each locally established chapter was coordinated by a health educator and a sponsoring physician who were committed to educating the community on injury prevention. Programs were presented in health, driver education, science classes and assemblies throughout the United States, reaching more than a half-million students each year.

Dr. Eyster holding a plaque
Dr. Eyster receiving recognition

The tremendous response to ThinkFirst led to the incorporation of an independent 501c3 non-profit organization. The films won awards and the presentations won the hearts of students and teachers alike. Chapter training was expanded to other countries, which led to the development of programs in French and Spanish, and an additional logo for international chapters, affiliating them with the ThinkFirst International Injury Prevention Foundation. There are currently more than 30 international chapters providing ThinkFirst programs in communities across the globe.

In addition to ThinkFirst For Teens, ThinkFirst For Kids and ThinkFirst For Youth were developed for grades 1-8 with curriculum, videos and presentations. Each theory-based program was based on the Health Belief Model, which states, in brief, that in order to invoke behavior change, a person must recognize that something serious in the form of disease or injury could indeed happen to them, and that there is something relatively simple they can do to prevent it.This theory also states that it is important to continue with cues, or reminders, on a regular basis to keep the messaging in mind.

Program evaluation has always been encouraged. Several efficacy studies of ThinkFirst programs have been published over the years and are available on our website.

Today, the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation offers research-validated educational programs that have reached millions of young people nationally and worldwide. Additional programs now include ThinkFirst About Concussion, ThinkFirst To Prevent Falls and ThinkFirst For Your Baby. The Foundation's network of chapters has influenced public policy initiatives, and continues to expand to reach those most vulnerable to traumatic injuries: our children, teens and young adults. By virtue of their work in treating patients who have sustained traumatic injuries, physicians and health professionals are natural spokespersons for injury prevention. Trauma, rehabilitation and children's hospitals, as well as medical universities find ThinkFirst offers the speaker training, chapter support and program materials they need for providing injury prevention educational programs. ThinkFirst encourages health professionals to become involved -- start chapters or work with existing chapters -- to help us lower the incidence, cost and devastation of traumatic injury.

Please see 'Chapters' for ThinkFirst chapter locations and information on starting a chapter. Programs are described are under 'Injury Prevention Programs.' Contact the ThinkFirst Foundation at or call 630-961-1400 for further information.



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